Three men were arrested earlier this month in Zimbabwe for killing 81 elephants by dumping cyanide into their watering hole. Spurred on by the high prices ivory can fetch, the poachers were also responsible for the deaths of countless other animals that drank from the same water source. The men have been slapped with a hefty fine and an extended prison sentence, which suggests authorities are finally getting serious about curtailing the escalating illegal ivory trade.
In response to this extreme form of poaching, the authorities in Zimbabwe have opted for an equally extreme punishment. The men were sentenced to serve 15 years in jail and pay $800,000 in fines.
After a continuous increase in the amount of elephant poaching across Africa, many of the nations on the continent are turning to more severe sentencing and heftier fines to try and deter would-be poachers. It’s a stark contrast to previous jail terms that were nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Fevered poaching over the past few decades has reduced the once-strong population of 1.3 million elephants to a number currently half that; 36,000 elephants were killed last year alone. At the current rate of extermination, elephants may only be in existence for just over another decade, according to wildlife conservation experts.
This case is particular reprehensible since poisoning the watering hole did not only affect elephants. Other animals that are an important part of the ecosystem were killed or contaminated, poisoning the predators that prey on them in turn. This chain reaction of events makes both the biological and economic cost of the damage even harder to estimate.